The Value of Human Life in Soviet Warfare

The Value of Human Life in Soviet Warfare

The Value of Human Life in Soviet Warfare

The Value of Human Life in Soviet Warfare

Synopsis

This is a key question for all Western military strategists. If the Soviets are indeed willing to tolerate high human sacrifice in warfare this obviously puts them at a military advantage. The perceived wisdom, hitherto, is that the Soviets are indeed willing to tolerate high casualties in battle - this, initial, view is reinforced by myths about Stalin clearing minefields by marching penal battalions across them. Professor Sella, however, comes to a different conclusion. He surveys Soviet attitudes to the military-medical service; to its own prisoners of war; and to the ethos of fighting to the death, considering how attitudes have changed from Czarist times to the present. He concludes that the Soviets are less ready to tolerate massive sacrifices than has been supposed; but that this position stems as much from utilitarian-military logic as from compassion.

Excerpt

Of the many ways to evaluate the price of victory two are perhaps more prominent than others: the moralistic and the utilitarian. the moralistic approach deals with the justification for wars and with the obligation of the State towards protection of the citizen and the obligation of the citizen to defend his country. At the logical end of this argument lie problems of pacifism and conscientious objection. However, pacifists and conscientious objectors form only a minority and countries in the midst of war attempt to face the moral dilemmas involved as best they can, or not at all. Every war has left its imprint on individuals, groups and nations. the accumulative process of learning is the collective memory of human kind which is in turn the basis for ethics in international relations and a generator of international law. in response to compassionate entreaties and for reasons of expediency, elaborate ethical conventions were solemnly signed between belligerent countries to reduce as much as possible the pain and suffering of war.

The utilitarian (the word is not used in its philosophipcal meaning) proach does not deal with the rights and wrongs of waging wars but with the best way to do so in order to achieve victory at the minimum cost to human life. Despite the fact that military logic differs from the diplomatic in that the latter is for ever looking for the best compromise and the former for the quickest way to break the enemy, every military establishment is saddled with utilitarian problems. Scarcity of human resources, cost-effectiveness of using manpower where fire power can be put to a better use, the attitude to soldiers who have become prisoners of war as well as the morale and the discipline of the troops, all these and several more may be classified as utilitarian problems. However, they usually also involve value judgement.

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